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Sarasota Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2019 4 weeks ago

Sarasota School Board approves tentative 2019-20 budget

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The sum of the general fund budget increased by $19 million.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

The Sarasota County School Board moved ahead with the school district’s 2019-2020 general fund budget of nearly $484 million with a 3-2 vote Tuesday afternoon.

General fund spending is up $19 million, or 4.1% compared to last year. Key contributors to the increase were employee benefits, workers’ compensation and upgrades to facility door locks.

Board Members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson both voted against the budget.

Robinson said he feared not enough funds had been given to workers' compensation, citing the fund was down from $4 million three years ago to $750,000 today. Ziegler expressed concerns that the board is spending more money than it is bringing in, using its reserves to make up the balance. 

“I have shared concerns as far as our spending, and I am concerned we have not made the proper adjustments,” Ziegler said. “I think a lot of the decision could be made up here at the board level.”

Although Board Members Shirley Brown and Caroline Zucker both approved the budget for public hearing, they expressed concern that funds hadn’t been set aside for increasing the number of bus drivers, the number of aides at Oak Park School and the minimum wage for employees to $12 an hour.

Superintendent Todd Bowden said that because contract negotiations haven’t been complete for those items, those numbers were not included in the budget. Should negotiations reach an agreement, those funds would be added at a later date and paid in arrears.

In addition to the approval of a tentative budget, board members approved a millage rate of 6.943 per $1,000 of taxable value with a 5-0 vote. That number is decreased from last year’s rate of 7.003, which makes it the sixth consecutive year of decrease, though countywide property values rose by 6.1% in the last year.

The owner of a property with a $200,000 taxable value would pay $1,388.60 with the proposed tax rate, compared with $1,400.60 with the previous year’s rate.

The district’s proposed overall budget of $938.23 million has increased about 7.3% compared with last year’s adopted budget, with about $131 million of revenue for capital projects. Additional sources of revenue for these projects, such as Public Education Capital Outlay, are not viable because the Legislature allocated the entirety of PECO funds to charter schools.

Bowden, commenting on the drop in the millage rate, noted that it decreases the  amount of money available for the district’s budget. Bowden said that if this year’s millage rate was what it was in 2002 — when Sarasota voters first approved a 1-mill increase that brought the millage rate to 9.287 — the district budget would see more than $155 million more. This would come out to an extra $27,445 per each of the district’s 5,671 employees, he said.

“I just wanted to put into context the millage rates and their decline and the impacts it’s having on our budget and, more directly, on our employees,” Bowden said.

Robinson said if the school board and Sarasota citizens wanted, they could opt for additional millage when voting rolls around next November.

“If we thought that we’re being hamstrung because the millage isn’t high enough, we could go out next November for additional millage,” he said.

A school board final vote is scheduled for July 30 after a public hearing, but the numbers won’t officially be complete until final calculations are done in September.

The board will host a public hearing where community members will be allowed to comment and ask questions at 5:15 p.m. July 30 in the board chambers, 1960 Landings Blvd.

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